A Co Down grandmother and mum of six has told how a unique addiction service helped her beat the booze after almost five decades of alcoholism.
Shunned by her own family embarrassed by her drunkenness, Janet Jardine (64) has turned her life around over the past 14 months thanks to the National Lottery-funded service The Right Key.
Dependant for decades on drink to give her confidence, she now says: "I've turned into the woman I've always wanted to be - getting the right support for my addiction saved my life."
Janet, who lives outside Loughbrickland, still attends and also volunteers with the addiction service, which has helped over 500 drug and alcohol addicts to recover using music, crafts and woodwork.
A mum of six children aged from 22 to 46 and grandmother to six, she recalls how for many years she was a functioning alcoholic: "For many years I didn't know I had a problem.
"I started drinking when I was still at school because everyone I ran about with was drinking. It gave me confidence and if I had to do anything I had a drink as it changed my personality which is what I wanted.
"From then right up until my 50s I was a functioning alcoholic. I just topped it up and no one really knew or would look at me and say, 'She has been drinking'.
"I was a stay-at-home mum and would have drank at different times of the day just to give me confidence but it never really interfered with family life and the kids didn't suffer. They were all brought up well."
Things started to spiral around 10 years ago when, with her youngest son, two daughters and husband still at home, suddenly "topping up" wasn't enough and Janet craved drink all the time.
She began drinking heavily from she woke up until late into the night and would have suffered blackouts and her relationship with her family started to break down.
Janet recalls: "I thought I couldn't function without it and I would have actually been full of the joys of spring going to the off licence every day to get my carry-out.
"I drank from I got up and all day and sometimes during the night too. I was drinking two big bottles of cider and a half bottle of vodka every day.
"I would black out and not remember what I did and I was causing rows at home but couldn't remember when I got up the next day.
"It was hard on my family and they got fed up with me. They stopped inviting me to family occasions because I drank too much and let myself down. I wasn't invited on holidays or to my daughter's 40th birthday party."
Thankfully today after being introduced to The Right Key Janet's life has been totally transformed and no one is more delighted than her children who have their mummy back.
Janet has even studied for her Level 2 hygiene course so that she can volunteer in the cafe at the addiction centre.
She says: "My children have said they are so glad to have their mum back. They can have a conversation with me now and they can't get enough of me.
"They can't wait for me to visit and they just love me now. We are all going on a family holiday next June.
"I'm a different person now. I am full of confidence and can speak to anyone now thanks to The Right Key. Anyone who sees me now wouldn't recognise me from the person I was a couple of years ago.
"Alcoholism is a disease but there is light at the end of the tunnel. You have to want it though and I did want it. It can be done as I have been drinking since I was 14 and never stopped and feel like my life is just starting now.
"The Right Key is amazing, it is a miracle worker, it has given me my life back."
The Right Key, located in the Old School House, Loughbrickland, was set up in 2013 to support alcoholics and drug addicts coming out of rehab. It now also supports people with mental health issues or who have been through trauma by providing a safe environment and an innovative recovery programme of counselling and peer support that uses music, crafts and woodworking.
Since joining the group last year, Janet has found a new passion and loves to sing, something she never would've done before without alcohol. She has also discovered a talent for creative writing, introduced by the service during lockdown.
She reveals: "A friend took me to The Right Key and from the minute I walked through that door I was met with the friendliest, nicest people that I have ever come across. I am a completely different person now.
"I used to get very anxious talking to people and used alcohol to give me more confidence, but now I don't feel like that at all. I never thought that I would take part in anything like that and at the very start I was nervous and would've just sat and watched everyone else, but now I can't wait to get singing. I love it."
Janet has been going along to the group for 14 months, but as Northern Ireland went into lockdown, The Right Key too had to close its doors.
She adds: "I think everyone was worried about relapsing, but because I had done so well over the last year I was determined not to go backwards, I want to keep moving forward with my life. We got together every Monday to Friday over video chat, we could see everyone and we sang together, it was just brilliant. Nobody relapsed because we got so much support."
The Right Key has been funded by The National Lottery Community Fund since 2013, receiving more than £370,000 to provide their recovery programme to over 500 people. Having lost income due to lockdown, they also got a new one-off grant of £20,000 to help them provide services online.
Sheila Smyth, development manager of The Right Key, says: "Thank God for The National Lottery who make the money possible, for just being able to ring and speak to our funding officer and talk about concerns.
"We didn't furlough any staff; the need was so great - we worked incredibly hard all through lockdown. They helped us take our services online and get connected to people who were not even familiar with laptops.
"Since the start of the pandemic we've lost no one on our programme, we had a group of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, who not only stayed clean and sober, but who also led the way for others who were overcome with anxiety, stress, isolation and trauma. I'm so proud of the peer mentors and the people we support."